By Chad Ingram
The new Minden arena will become home to a Junior A hockey team to be re-branded as the Haliburton County Huskies, beginning this fall.
During an April 29 online meeting, Minden Hills councillors reviewed a draft contract between the township and the team.
“A brand new Junior A hockey club is looking to move and take residency in the new recreation complex,” community services director Craig Belfry told councillors. That team has been known as the Whitby Fury. Owned by a corporation that involves county-based contractor and developer Paul Wilson, the plan is to rename and relocate the team to Haliburton County, using the new $13-million Minden facility as home base.
“We’ve been in conversation for a few months now,” Belfry said. “The team needed township discussions to proceed with putting in an application of $25,000 to the Ontario Junior Hockey League to move the team. And from that, we received great news that on Feb. 15, 2021, they were granted the permission to move, so that’s good news for us.
“The benefit of having the team move to this facility is enormous,” Belfry continued. “It fills gaps in our scheduling of ice time, it brings a new element to the community, which will help foster and develop the minor hockey and minor skating programs in the community. And it provides an entertainment value to the community as a whole, having a new product in the facility.”
During the negotiating process, Belfry said numerous considerations were made, including what the term of the contract would be.
“When we looked at the term, we went back and forth a little bit, but we recognized the value that we needed to give this team an opportunity to establish itself in the county and in the township,” Belfry said.
The draft contract is for seven years, to be reviewed by both parties after three. It contains a clause allowing both the team and the township to withdraw from the contract if so desired.
“Either party may terminate the contract by giving the other party 120 days’ written notice, giving reasons acceptable to the other,” the draft agreement reads. “A period of less than 120 days to terminate the contract may be negotiable if mutually agreeable among the parties involved in the contract.”
It also stipulates that the township will not provide residency at the facility to a competing entity for the duration of the contract.
“The landlord shall not entertain the permanent tenancy of any potentially competing property, such as an alternate junior hockey entity from any league, for the duration of the term of this agreement,” it reads.
The agreement also provides a reduced ice rental rate, with increases to be phased in during the span of the contract.
For the first year it shows the team will pay 30 per cent of the applicable hourly rate. For the second year, 40 per cent; for the third year, 45 per cent; for the fourth year, 50 per cent; for the fifth year, 55 per cent; for the sixth year, 60 per cent; and for the seventh year, 65 per cent.
The agreement also says the township will give the team exclusive use of the viewing area and adjoining community centre (as required) from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. for evening games, and from 3:30 to 9:30 p.m. for afternoon games.
“At the sole discretion of the landlord, the use of the adjoining community hall may be altered and not made available for the purpose of other community rentals,” the draft agreement reads.
The agreement also contains clauses that cede use of the facility’s gymnasium, or half the gymnasium, at minimum, for team use at prescribed times. Those times are from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. before evening games; from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. before afternoon games; and the full gym from 3 to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays.
“All scheduling of the gym facility shall be at the sole discretion of the landlord,” the draft contract reads. “The landlord agrees to provide 30 fitness room memberships to the tenant per year and allow for up to four hours of team workout time per week, scheduled at the sole discretion of the landlord.”
“The intention, and staff believe, that we need to give support to this organization to really establish a foothold in the community,” Belfry said.
The team will also contribute $100,000 of its own money to renovate the old Scout hall area to turn into the team’s own dressing area and offices, therapy rooms and team lounge.
“So, they are really committing a lot of dollar value,” Belfry said. “They are committed [to] aspects in the building, looking at adding more railings for us. And the largest thing they are committing to us, is that they’re going to operate our new snack bar when we’re done, when we get that built. And that’s a great deal for us, that we have somebody already agreeing to work with us on that snack bar. So we were very happy with that when we went through the negotiations.”
The team also wants to sell alcohol to be available for consumption during games, the sale of which would take place in the new viewing area.
“We talked with our insurance agents and legal about all of these items … there are times they may want to use the community hall as an overflow area, and we looked at licensing the stands for them,” Belfry said. “Our insurance agent got back to us and said that’s no additional cost to us and that’s a fairly simple process.”
The team would also be required to carry its own insurance.
Belfry said the township intends to license multiple parts of the new facility to be used for community events.
“Just to be all-encompassing, because the only area right now that’s currently licensed is the old community hall and nothing else right now is licensed,” he said.
Councillor Jennifer Hughey asked about concerns circulating in the community, including worries about traditional user groups being displaced.
“I just wanted to put to rest some of the concerns,” Hughey said to Belfry. “… You talked about filling the gaps in our current schedule. There have been concerns with some local groups about what the introduction of a Junior A hockey team may mean. And I just want you to talk about filling the gaps, and how that’s going to work.”
“I did a survey of the old scheduling from the old arena before it closed down and looked at the users,” Belfry said. “There were a lot of gaps. As everybody knows, minor hockey moves back and forth between Dysart and Minden, so there are gaps on alternating Friday and Saturday nights. Minor hockey in the past had finished by 5 o’clock on a Saturday night, so you’re wide open on a Saturday night with nothing going on in the facility.”
Belfry said the team was looking at having games on Fridays and Saturdays, “and they’re already in great conversation with minor hockey about developing a schedule. In about a month from now, we’re going to have a full-on user group meeting with everybody and look at scheduling.”
“They’re also going to hold their practices during the daytime, when there’s not a lot of ice usage, traditionally in arenas during the day.” Belfry continued. “So this is a win for us because that’s a rental that we would never have in there.”
He said that traditional user groups of the facility, such as men’s hockey leagues and the Minden Figure Skating Club, should not be impacted. He noted the intended times for Junior A practices came earlier in the day than the traditional times booked by the figure skating club.
Hughey said there had also been some concerns raised about the sale and consumption of alcohol during games.
“I wanted to just put it out there, for you to maybe discuss a little bit about what our plan would be, as a community, to mitigate any issues with alcohol,” she said.
Belfry said there is a clause in the draft agreement that stipulates the team must provide security for every event. He said the security may be provided through volunteers, but the clause allows the township to require that the team have paid-duty police officers on site if it’s felt that would be necessary. He added the team would be required to have Smart Serve-certified bar tenders in place.
“There will be, probably, a cut-off time,” Belfry continued, adding that for most Junior A games, alcohol sales cease after the second intermission.
“They do have to assume a lot of risk,” he said. “We have talked to our insurance companies about that, and we are confident the team can do this. It’s something we’ll have to monitor and watch.”
Mayor Brent Devolin noted the township ultimately has control over how and where alcohol is being sold and consumed within the facility.
“I would say the sale of alcohol, for anywhere in the facility, for any kind of event, the fact that the whole facility is licensed doesn’t mean that we would or shall, without controls or zones or safe zones, or whatever,” Devolin said. “It’s possible, but it doesn’t mean with any of this, that it’s wide-open season. And isn’t specific to just the Junior A hockcy team. [For] any other user of the facility, there will be the same type of controls and oversight.”
“The reason we’re looking to license the whole facility, is just for those other kinds of events,” Belfry said. “There may be an event you want to host in the gym, or something in the lobby, some kind of fundraiser … It’s not you get to serve alcohol and walk all over the facility with your alcohol. It’s going to be very contained for the hockey games.”
Councillor Bob Carter said he supported licensing the entire facility for alcohol consumption, but said he did not want to see alcohol in the stands during games, at least at first.
“I would like to see that, initially, we do not allow liquor into the arena stands,” Carter said. “Rather than see if we have an issue and then look to dial it back, I would rather us have the liquor being sold in those viewing areas and so on, and then decide whether or not to extend it to the stands. I think that’s a compromise that’s worth taking. I would rather not have liquor in the stands for games, initially.”
Councillor Pam Sayne agreed with Carter on taking a phased approach to allowing alcohol in the stands.
“I received emails on this as well, and there is concern and I do support Councillor Carter’s position of let’s take that gradually. Let’s license everything and then if things are working out well, possibly the stands. I would support that direction as well, just because we don’t have any kind of track record with how we’re doing with all of this, at this point.”
Sayne also asked what would happen to the agreement if there was an ownership change for the team during the contract period, and also if there was an opportunity for the township to partner with the team on some the revenue-generating aspects, such as alcohol sales, or even having a public-private ownership partnership of some kind.
“Definitely that’s something we can explore, we do have the clauses in the agreement to look at that as things progress down the road,” Belfry said, adding he’d looked at many different models of alcohol sales within various facilities. “As we become more established, too, ourselves, as a department in the facility and get our operations going in the new facility, everything’s going to evolve.”
“It is a corporation that we’re signing the agreement with and they are bringing in more investors,” Belfry said. “And if a team member did sell, that would change the agreement, and we’d have to go back to the table to see where we’re at.”
Members of council complimented Belfry on this handling of the contract, and the matter will come back to the council table for further discussion.